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Spam

I'm seriously considering pitching a detective novel, about the hunt for a serial killer. The unique selling point will be that as the detective homes in on the killer, he gradually comes to sympathize with him, and ends up questioning whether he should actually collar the murderer ... because the victims are all spammers.

It's been a particularly bad month, here: the daily spam load on my mail server hasn't dipped below 30,000, and the amount of bandwidth they're chewing up with their ads for v1agra and solicitations from the desk of Kofi Annan has grown to be roughly the equivalent of a 28.8K modem running 24x7. I finally bitten the bullet and started paying for a commercial spam filtering service (mail-scanning.com) rather than trying to nurse a balky installation of SpamAssassin along after I worked out that the cost of my time exceeded the cost of the service (and it's a business expense anyway). But I am seriously narked insofar as the spammers are costing me real money, and while as a matter of principle I am opposed to capital and corporal punishment, I'd have a lot of sympathy for that fictional unhinged serial killer.

Finally, lest you think that spamming is irritating but harmless, I'd like to draw your attention to the contents of your spam bin. You'll notice that about 40-50% of it consists of attempts to sell you cheap medicines (and a chunk of the rest is a blatant attempt to steal your bank account and identity details). It turns out that about half the pills sold by spammers are counterfeit. And while this isn't going to kill you as long as all you're trying to do is rev up your sex life, it's tantamount to murder if the stuff that's being flogged is sold as a cheap substitute for otherwise-expensive prescription antiviral, antibiotic, or antihypertensive medicines.

99 Comments

1:

I don't think I've had any spam since I switched to googlemail.

Of course, there may be other problems with google.

2:

GoogleMail hides the spam for you, and automatically purges its spam folder after 30 days. Choosing an unguessable handle and only giving it to friends who know how to use BCC when they spam their whole list with lolcats helps.

Otherwise I'm all for peace, love, liberty and hanging spammers out to dry.

3:

Spammers should be dealt like telemarketers in the Bun-Bun comics
http://www.sluggy.com/daily.php?date=031014
http://www.sluggy.com/daily.php?date=031015
http://www.sluggy.com/daily.php?date=031016

Or at least some provisions from Sharia must apply, cutting hands, stoning...

(Usually I write back mails on behalf of the Law Firm H. Lecter and Associates, email Cthulu@ryleh.org suggesting interesting ways to get a Darwin Award...pity they bounce)

Marino

4:

Despite all you say above (and dealing with large volumes of it myself), it still strikes me as petty. Spam is more than just an annoyance, yes, but I'd think the actual deaths are more the fault of the counterfeiters than their marketers.

Cf Dexter. He's a sympathetic character - barely - because he murders the murderers. Murdering to punish other crimes, even if they're severe (say, armed robbery or pension fund embezzlement) doesn't work so well. Spam is much farther down the list, the way we think of it morally.

I used to get no spam with Gmail, but the spammers may have made some breakthroughs - now I get a few in my inbox a week.

5:

I like Gmail as well. But it isn't a substitute if you need your own mail server. I haven't had such a need for a long, long time and I'm astonished that it's a paying proposition to use a commercial service (which of course assumes that it works). What's the over/under for an hourly rate on your own time to make that worthwhile? 30 quid? less?

As for the novel, to me it feels like the beginning of a good idea. But everybody will be cheering on the killer. Some hyper version of "Dexter" (or at least what I imagine "Dexter" to be as I've not read or seen any version of it). Maybe make it competitive (That's not how you kil a spammer. THAT'S HOW YOU KILL A SPAMMER.) Or maybe something for the Laundry. (BTW, finally got "Jennifer Morgue"; Mo's dead isn't she? You can tell me. Me and Lazenby.)

6:

I'm always amazed when I read how profitable spamming can be. You have to be pretty dumb to buy stuff from spammers, in my opinion. Yet there seems to be no shortage of such people. To paraphrase P.T. Barnum, "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of people with an email inbox."

7:

Have you tried greylisting? It uses an in-spec SMTP mechanism to cause new senders to resend later (once). Senders that pass this test are white-listed and not delayed again. Most spam is sent from transient transmitters that won't survive to resend later.

We've found that a combination of greylisting and RBL's has really helped a lot. I only receive a few Nigerian-style messages now.

Not sure if my comment will be caught as spam if I give a URL, so just look for Greylisting on Wikipedia for more info.

8:

It has to be an epistolatory novel, with the cop getting more and more frustrated by the spam clogging his mailbox.

It might be better as a short story.

And if everything has to go through the official email server for it to count as evidence, he can have picked up all the pieces in canteen gossip, but will his (digitally signed) application for a warrant ever get a reply from the judge?

9:

Charlie, ever thought about front-ending your mail server with Google? I know you and Feorag like to run things locally (as do I,) but Google Apps now do a "point your MX records at us and we'll only forward on non-spam" service for $3 per user per year. At that price it's daft not to. Mail me (via lj?) if you want a quick link to the right URLs. It's Postini's old service.

10:

if you write it, I'll read it. And cheer on the murderer, of course. I, personally, have had quite good results with bogofilter. as for greylisting: not always a good idea, the University where I work employs it and the false positives rate is atrocious (in this case people from companies trying to send you quotations you asked for and not succeeding because their mail-server is braindead and rfc-ignorant. but you can't just ignore them because you WANT their info.)

11:

I suspect one reason why googlemail works so well for spam protection is that certain types of heuristics for spotting spam with a huge set of input messages (the spams which occasionally slip past gmail's filtering seem to be the 419 type, which generally look a lot more like human generated emails anyway).

That being the case, the future of spam prevention is evidently lies in either outsourcing it to someone who already handles a huge amount of mail, or conversely in widescale takeup of the various opensauce collaborative filtering approaches.

There's an interesting side effect of the first approach - the 'mail network' itself becomes more prone to occasional large scale failure.

12:

My spam amuses me. That's because, despite being female, most of my spam is of the enlargement of male organ variety. Um, you can't increase what I haven't got!

13:

I wrote a similarly themeed detective novel (see link). My basic inspiration was my work in cyber law-enforcement and that we were rapidly approaching the point where it's might be more attractive to just lynch the evil hackers than to let law enforcement run its impotent course.

14:

Just think about the fake drug company come ons if the Bird Flu eventually (inevitably?) takes off. It will *truly* cost lives then - because people will panic enough to buy it.

s

15:

Not wishing to start any flames up, but I must say that I've found the SPAM filtering in Outlook 2003 to be really rather effective at keeping my clear of the 1000 or so I get a week from various sources.

Having said that, I did decide to pay for filtering on my main personal email servers so I can get mail delivered to my mobile devices without Spam.

16:

As long as it doesn't get published before the short story I am submitting around about a man who vlogs his professionally killing spammers around the world to public acclaim, and runs an open source fundraising to continue doing it. LOL. I wrote it in one night after I got 40,000 backscatter emails after some damned spammer used my email address as a 'return to' address.

17:

Minivet @3: Who's Dexter?

Alan: I've got five domains and about a dozen users and half that number of active mailing lists. Filtering on a per-user basis would be a royal pain in the neck to set up (although longer-term ...).

18:

Harsh.


But fair.

19:

"Dexter" is apparently a crime novel series turned tv series about a serial killer who only kills criminals that got away with it. Or something. He works in forensics which helps him get away with it. THis I glean from an odd converstaion with an ex-girlfriend.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darkly_Dreaming_Dexter and related links for detail. It's supposed to be goodish. From a marketing perspective I think it's very clever with all the hooks to hang things on.

20:

Dexter is probably my favorite TV series out there for writing and just oddness. The first season just came out on DVD, I'm jonesing for the second.

21:

Your third-party spam scanner considers me to be spam, you know.

This is... not a good sign. :)

22:

I'm seconding/thirding/whatevering the plug count is for greylisting. It works miracles.

23:

Remainds me of this that might cheer you up if you've not seen it before: "New Hope for the Dead by David Langford".

24:

Greylisting doesn't work so well if a significant fraction of your spam comes to your mail server via forwarding addresses, and isn't sent to your server directly -- the forwarding server retries as necessary, regardless of what the originating server did. This is why I use a similar service to mail-scanning.com for my mail server (Cloudmark's filtering service via PObox.com). It's not a perfect solution, but it's only slightly worse than GMail's spam filtering, which is quite good.

25:

Ah, the detective ending up understanding the killer who target spammers... And who wouldn't sympathize! BTW, have you read "The Feng Shui Detective's Casebook"? ;-)

26:

Greylisting is rude. Your problem with spam shouldn't make me email twice.

When RCN started doing spam filtering, they were as inaccurate as AOL. Fortunately, the guy in charge was a fan and I asked him to whitelist my name. I get about 60 emails a day, about 20 make it through my filters, and most days, about ten of those are actual email (the others are usually companies I've bought from using their rights to advertise). (I post all over with my real edress, so I don't know why I don't have more.)

27:

but whilst the detective chews on his doubt,
a rogue returning AI decides to take
action and mercilessly zooms in on the killer,
setting a most deadly and marvelous trap.

immortalised now, the killer is caught in a loop
of neverending spamfiltering, desperate for a
way out...

enters the detective - can he intervene ? who
is this AI ? and why is more than spam missing?

28:

If you are serious, how about thinking where spam might go in the mobile future and making it SF?

On a tangential note, didn't Trevor Eve star as a private detective in a BBC series a couple of decades ago? I recall that the back story was that he as a programmer who had had a nervous breakdown.

29:

Yes. Shoestring.

30:

I'd actually considered what an outline for a novel with a serial killer as lead before Dexter came out, but ran into a problem. I'd have wanted it to be a real killer - not the sort of silly Dexter trick where he's judge, jury and executioner to bad guys while reveling in his psychopathy, but someone who revels in their psychopathy while, you know, being a psychopath.

The problem was what to set up as the villains? Vampires? Nazis? Vampire Nazis? What would encourage a reader to identify with someone who really was a murdering bastard?

Spammers might work... Or you could always include it as a throwaway element; his trial taking place with a huge crowd of protesters demonstrating for his release...

31:

Thanks to GMail I no longer receive spam. Google search tells me what to read, watch and listen to. Google Maps tells me where to go and how to get there. Google Docs looks after my personal documentation and financial data. All my photos are filed and uploaded by Google Picasa. Thanks to Google's ruthlessly agnostic approach I can be subjected to subliminal mind control whether I use Windows, Mac or LINUX.

Coming soon: Google Life - let us do your thinking for you

32:

Modern spam control requires a multi-pronged approach.

You /are/ using greylisting, right? So you waste spammer time and throttle the hit on your real SMTP server?

Check out spamd and similar products that do greylisting. Snap to setup. Often used on such spam traps as Universities servers, who often share their blacklists with you so a sudden peak in traffic from a newly crack windows box can be nicely shut down in a reasonable amount of time.

There is no panacea, of course, but keeping obvious spam from your server while forcing spammers to listen to your "SMTP" server slowly talk back to them bytes at a time for hundreds of seconds is just good fun.

(And, no, this is not a terrible load on anyone's network. It's exactly what networks are supposed to do.)

33:

The unique selling point will be that as the detective homes in on the killer, he gradually comes to sympathize with him, and ends up questioning whether he should actually collar the murderer ... because the victims are all spammers.

Isn't there an Iain Banks (no M) novel (Complicity?) about someone who goes around murdering deserving people in appropriate ways?

It turns out that about half the pills sold by spammers are counterfeit.

Only half?

It's a bugger, I want Modafinil (for cognitive purposes), but getting it in Japan isn't at all straightforward, and all these online pharmacies based in Turkey look thoroughly dodgy. Gonna have to start feigning narcolepsy or something.

34:

It's a nice daydream, but I'm not sure I want to live in a society that killed spammers. Even if we can do some sort of moral calculus that can determine that killing the occasional spammer does decrease the general level of human suffering. Imprisonment does seem appropriate, however.

"Well, Canter and Siegel.* Let's do the math. By sending an unsolicited commercial email to 10 million people, forcing each of them to waste 10 seconds of their time, that's roughly 30 thousand waking hours of their time. Figuring 16 waking hours per day ...
Right, that's minimum security prison for 1736 days for the two of you."

*First massive commercial usenet spammers.

It does raise an interesting question; to what degree is grand spamming morally equivalent to grand theft, arson, or assault? One spam message is trivial, but if a person ends up spending 100 hours a year cleaning junk out of their inbox, that's time they could have spent playing with their children, making a living, catching up on sleep, and so on.

35:

Charlie @16
I've got five domains and about a dozen users and half that number of active mailing lists. Filtering on a per-user basis would be a royal pain in the neck to set up (although longer-term ...).

Your long-term solution could be to experiment with piping your email for one account through gmail and doing a diff against assorted filter routines of your own. Heck, an expedient solution would be to pipe the handful of most-used accounts through gmail, and fix the rest later.

All that being said, please blog more about the success or lack thereof with mail-scanning. If yahoo does get eaten up by M-dollar, I'm going to way more interested in hosting my own email rather than trusting it to the tender mercies of companies sited in the US

I thought anti spam vigilanteism was great until I first got joejobbed. Now, not so much.

36:

This reminds me of something that happened in this small town I am living in. A lady that used to rent my apartment (and left on bad terms, but that's another story) responded to one of these fraudulent e-mails. The offer was to cash "customers" travelers checks and receive 10% of the difference. Well, this idiot received these American Express travelers checks via UPS one day. Instead of sending the cash back, she decided to cash the travelers checks and keep all the money and not send any of it back. The joke was on her. The travelers checks turned out to be counterfeit and now the F.B.I. is looking for her for passing the checks (total amount $2000.00)not to mention charges being filed by the banks where she cashed the checks....

The moral of the story, any e-mail or "spam" that sounds too good to be true, probably is. There are lots of ignorant-ass idiots in small towns in west Texas- too bad I have to live around them. Me and my wife have been attracting them like magnets lately...........

Ed

37:

It's a nice daydream, but I'm not sure I want to live in a society that killed spammers.

I wouldn't want *society* to do it, but if someone were to do it on a *freelance* basis I can't say I'd waste a lot of sympathy on the targets. Free riders in any system sometimes need to see a downside or two, gives them a sense of perspective.

38:

It's not just those resources that spammers steal. I run an interactive web site, and over the last few years I'd guess I've put several days' worth of effort into preventing people subverting the "mail me comments", the "show extra information" and similar pages.

Recently I've been getting deluged by "people" filling in the questionnaire about what enhancements they'd like with piles of URLs for dodgy sites (usually subverted real sites).

I've even put a test for a person on the guestbook and still get several spams a day that come past that despite there being a clear message that it is moderated.

All these are, of course, solvable technically. And have been. But all the time I'm fighting spammers I'm not enhancing the site. I've got a wishlist longer than my life and other demands on my time; so the spammers are diminishing what I can offer hundreds of happy users.

Frankly, killing them is too merciful a solution.

39:

The trouble with individuals (not the judicial system) killing spammers is that I wouldn't trust those with the poor impulse control over their anger to do proper forensics and get the right person. Spammers would quickly start leaving false trails and blending into the background of 'mail admins', making sysadmins feel very nervous indeed.

40:

To proponents of greylisting: Show me the RFC. Because increasingly otherwise the only reasonable approach to building computer programs is to explictly ignore internet RFC's since they're simply ways to get your programs blocked by "greylisting", "traffic filtering" and other measures to "help the users".

I personally use a server-side filter which applies the ROKSO list, then use Pegasus Mail's built-in heuristic filter for the rest.

Spam vigilanism has cost a good friend of mine a business he held for a long time, and personally cost me close to �3000 when the provider we had servers on got blacklisted because of a single spam-shot from someone else's client who was canned within 90 minutes...the block being imposed *three weeks* later!

41:

What about gray listing goes against RFC?

42:

What if it was an AI using the distrubuted network of the internet to keep itself going. Every Spammer is literally eating its thinking power, and I that would make it mad...

Mad enough to track them and...maybe get some flesh bodies to kill them.

43:

I'd just like to note two things at this point.

a) I would strongly discourage folks from even thinking about taking vigilante action against spammers. They're good at covering their tracks, there's a good chance you'll get an innocent victim who's been smeared via a Joe job, and in any case, it's a job for the police and courts. (Who have been taking spam increasingly seriously over the past few years.) I'm just speculating that a work of fiction about a spammer-hunting serial killer might be amusing. Fiction: that's made-up stuff.

b) In the 24 hours since I switched to filtering via mail-scanning.com, the spam load has dropped massively (I'm still seeing some inbound because DNS changes take time to propagate) and mail.scanning.com's status report indicates 14,000 spams blocked. Just sayin'.

44:

I don't get why HashCash hasn't caught on. Sure, much of the mail is being sent from zombies, but if zombies started having to get cracking on those SHA1 iterations, maybe their nominal owners would notice and get themselves clean, and at least it would make the problem CPU-bound and not just bandwidth-bound as it currently is.

45:

David@40: That you can even ask that question shows you clearly don't get why it leads to some 15-20% of legit mail getting blocked

46:

Andrew @44: Where are you getting that 15-20% number from?

47:

41: via a mailing list of delusional psychotics, as in "Distraction"?

48:

I'm all for peace, love, liberty and hanging spammers out to dry from the nearest lamp-post.

There. Fixed it for ya.

49:

Kevin@45 - From a sample of arround 25,000 emails sent over a month from two hosted servers with a few different mail configs.

50:

Spammers would quickly start leaving false trails and blending into the background of 'mail admins', making sysadmins feel very nervous indeed.

There wouldn't be much point in going after the organized crime people running botnets, they must be pretty hard to track down, and probably in Russia to boot. But there are a few individuals who *brag* about spamming who wouldn't need forensics to track down and whose discomfiture I might stoop to finding entertaining, despair at my moral squalor if you must.

I would strongly discourage folks from even thinking about taking vigilante action against spammers.

Nothing but pure speculation going on here.

51:

Information wants to be Free. And spam is just information that is Free that we don't like. The ability to utilize the web as a free-for-all marketing oppurtunity is supported by both capitalism's core values, and the conceptual core values of the Pirate web culture. Spam may be noise in the system, and I'm sure that counter measures which seek out spammer sources and hurt them could be used. Digital attack forces are common now, they just seem to be in the wrong hands. Would we like the Government to fund some hackers that write Seek and Destroy programs for an army of bots? Or just wait until someone in the private sector would like to fund this project?

52:

Information wants to be Free. And spam is just information that is Free that we don't like.

No, it isn't free - we're paying for it.

The ability to utilize the web as a free-for-all marketing oppurtunity is supported by both capitalism's core values, and the conceptual core values of the Pirate web culture.

Bollocks - whichever supposed libertarian utopia you take, there's always some sort of force - usually either a powerful commitment to the utopia itself or a powerful sense of obligation to its other members - that pulls inwards, holding it together. It's like the strong and weak nuclear forces; competition and individuality pull outwards, obligation and citizenship inwards.

Of course, there are always people for whom those two are just words; hence spam. As it happens, just as with the nuclear forces, there is a very restricted range of tolerance in which society keeps functioning; going along one axis, you start to use more and more state power to keep it together and eventually it does a quantum hop into tyranny. On another, you go too far down the road of mutual obligation and you flip into a lesbian Maoist generation ship. On another, you go for too much devotion to the civic ideal and you end up turning into a cult.

53:

Do you realise that if you title an article "Spam", when it gets forwarded to an e-mail address (in my case a gmail address from sendmerss.com, it gets treated as per the subject and is consigned to the Spam folder.

Ironic, huh?

;o)
Fras

54:

Fras; this is a weblog. It is not a mailing list. And I don't recall giving anyone permission to forward my blog articles via email. You are getting, therefore, precisely what you paid for.

55:

"Information wants to be Free."

But

"Writers want to be Paid."

It's the Hacker's Ethic versus the Writer's Ethic.

However, the two are not diametrically opposed. Hackers and Writers have common enemies. These include: the Government (with respect to taxation, regulation, encroachment on fundamental freedoms and liberties); and Spammers and Phishers (who steal our bandwidth, clog our email, waste our memory, abuse our attention, waste our time, attempt to steal our identities and money, and confuse the public between Crackers and Hackers).

Up to a point, an enemy of an enemy is a friend.

So, White Hat Hackers on the one hand; and Writers on the other hand (Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Mystery, Detective, Thriller, Romance, Poetry, Comedy, Stage Play, Teleplay, Screenplay, Gaming, and everything else personal or journalistic or experimental in the Blogosphere) -- to quote a former Altadena neighbor of mine (no, not Feynman):

"Can't we all just get along?"

Or, to give the full 1992 soundbite, the rough equivalent of the 2007 "Don't tase me, bro":

"People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along? Can we stop making it, making it horrible for the older people and the kids?...It’s just not right. It’s not right. It’s not, it’s not going to change anything. We’ll, we’ll get our justice....Please, we can get along here. We all can get along. I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while. Let’s try to work it out. Let’s try to beat it. Let’s try to beat it. Let’s try to work it out."

56:

Re counterfeits: I just got a batch of spam with the subject "Get big or die trying!" Points for honesty, at least.

And there's the flip side to your scenario: anti-spammers poisoning (ahem) the well by setting up their own spamvertised pharmacy, and shipping out lethal counterfeits. And being, in their way, ethical vigilantes, they'd give their victims every chance, by using subjects like...

Hmmmmmmmm.

57:

Does anyone recall the Netforce books? Tom Clancy getting his name on the cover, and people like Diane Duane doing the work.

All the cuybercrime, and no spam.

There was even a movie.


Evil thought: what if there are pieces of dangerous mathematics which don't threaten the world, just the idiot running the code. What would a spammer vigilante look like the the Laundryverse?

58:

This is in some of the same story-space as the early Simon Templar, or even the Dirty Harry movie Sudden Impact.

59:

I fell out with a former hosting company for complaining about me spamming because somebody was spoofing email addresses from my domain. Note, that they were merely putting a random name on front of my domain but that all the email was coming from other sources and domains around the world.

I sacked the hosting company when I found that after a long discussion explaining this to their support guys, the support guy didn't think it was possible to send an email which looked like it came from somebody else just by changing the name in a field.

I had to send him an email from himself to "prove" how it was done. He didn't get it.

60:

Something you may want to consider instead of paying for a spam service is to use ASSP, which is in my experience a superior spam filter than SpamAssassin.

It works as an SMTP proxy and sits between your mail server and the Internet, and as such it works with any mail server and is very flexible. It does the usual Bayesian, but also features a billion other ways to detect spam (blackhole lists, SPF, greylisting, etc).

The beauty of it is that you configure it all through one simple web page and the installation can be done in under a half-hour for a first time user. Might be a bit daunting at first, but it's working really well here for me in a network of about 100 heavy mail users.

http://assp.sourceforge.net/

61:

I've said it before, Beelzebub has a devil put aside for each and every spammer. I can see why it might be a touch frustrating to wait until the end of time for a judgement to be visited on the criminals that might not even be real.

Yes, they are criminals, even if what they are pimping isn't illegal in itself. Like many of us here, my time is money, and my time is what they are stealing - ie, taking from me without my permission and with the intent to permanently deprive me of it (which is the definition I use at work when it comes to the theft of motor vehicles) That's even if I just consign it to the Span file. Maybe your time is worthless to you, and you are happy to give it away to these anonymous thieves whose only interest in you is to deprive you of your money on a permanent basis. If that's so, that's okay. For you. Me, I incline towards an Islamic punishment for theft - try programming with no hands!

On the other hand, a length of piano wire and the nearest lamppost is good too.

I use aol and very rarely get spam on it. I use Hotmail for arm's length stuff and while that was dreadful, it did improve but now seems to be deteriorating. We also use googlemail. No problems yet.

A novel about serial killing spammers? I'll pay to read that.

62:

Mike et al; the fundamental problem is that I get shitloads of spam and it is a waste of my time and energy to deal with it. Telling me that life would be great if I'd only switch to the next best spam filtering technology is missing the point.

I've found that the time I spend dealing with spam exceeds the the time it would take me to earn the money (by writing) to pay someone else to make it go away.

Or do you think the world would be a better place if I wrote less fiction and spent more time mopping up spam?

63:

Dave Bell@56, along the same lines as spam in the Laundryverse, what about spam in a universe with Dave Langford's BLITs? You'd not only have to filter out pretty much all graphics, but also ASCII art... (it's that or include algorithms that detect BLITs, which is really dangerous because then people could plausibly reverse them into BLIT generators).

(Of course given that in that universe people are going around spraypainting lethal BLITs onto random phone boxes, perhaps blitspam's not that serious. Perhaps if everyone fell back to using teletypes instead of graphical displays... :) )

64:

JVP said, ""Information wants to be Free."But Writers want to be Paid."

Not all of them. At least not all of the time. Our own author here blogs and this is free. And when some of these blog topics get slashdoted, are they using this free information incorrectly in any way? I mean, if it's free, then it doesn't matter who you send it to or how you send it. Or does it? And I think this topic is pointing out that more agressive action needs to be taken against spammers. So, which branch of the Government do we want in charge of this? Free market maybe? Don't like the bad guys, hire your own thugs. Don't want Government involved, because we don't like paying more taxes, then you just have to pay for it yourself.

65:

Jeff: I may annoy a few libertarians around here, but I'm in favour of governments having a monopoly on the use of force in law enforcement. I'd be happier about it in a world where governments couldn't stop you emigrating if you don't like how they're running their patch -- and the lack of free migration is itself a major injustice, in my opinion -- but we're getting arbitrarily close to it within the EU.

Hired thugs are bad because if you get them, you end up losing the principle of equality before the law -- you end up with unequal enforcement predicated on access to wealth (to buy thugs).

Also: democratic governments may be inefficient but, at least in principle, they're accountable. Someone else's hired thugs are anything but accountable. Paying taxes is a small price to exchange for living free of random thugs. Don't agree with me? Go live in Somalia or Iraq.

66:

Yes, definitely do this! The moral questions around it are very interesting, as they are in Dexter. Dexter *needs* to kill. His adopted father, a police detective, recognized this and channelled him into killing only people who "deserve" to die. (Another enjoyable book on the subject: "Past Mortem" by Ben Elton.)

Presumably your spammer-killer would have the same motivation; he is angry, frustrated, baulked by life at every twist and turn, he desperately wants to kill *someone*, make someone pay, brutalize someone as a sacrificial scapegoat for all the people he hates so very much. Who would no-one miss? Not prostitutes or homeless bums of course; our killer is an extremely intelligent person with a high degree of empathy and understanding of consequences, which is why he is filled with so much impotent rage at the wicked, selfish, vicious people he sees in charge of the world and holding him and everyone else down by the throat.

He knows he can't get to politicians and the like. He'd maybe get two or three before he got caught, and he wants to kill a *lot* of people. (He's a man of independent means, and has a bunch of free time.) He sees traditional victims of serial killers, rightly enough, as victims of broader social problems, and he wants to kill someone *awful*, who *truly deserves* horrible death. He wants to have *no* empathy for his victim; he knows full well that in the past, every time he's wanted to kill someone, he's gotten to know them and been betrayed by that awful sense of empathy.

He wants the victim to be such a thoroughly undesirable, unsympathetic monster, that he could hang their skin from a streetlight and the world--and more importantly, his own conscience--will cheer him on. (Although he realizes that authorities will try to stop him.) So, who's on the list, who won't be missed? Animal abusers? Probably not; they're awful people, but at some level, every meat-eater is responsible, and our man's a meat-eater too. Child molesters? No, they tend to molest at most a dozen kids.

Spammers. The people *no-one* wants to let live.

67:

Paying taxes is a small price for:
* Not having to inspect bridges/meat/crimes ourselves.
* Health care (here in Canada)
* Roads, schools, other infrastructure
* Clean water

I don't believe I've seen a valid counterproposal to having a government.

---

It's not an original idea, but I think the first sign of the Internet becoming sentient will be when it starts killing the spammers.

68:

Another idea: make the detective and the killer as much the same sort of guy as possible. (Not necessarily original, but if it works, who cares?)

Same politics, same mind capable of seeing the massive social problems in modern life and the interlocking relationships between them and all the reasons why every solution he's ever come up with cannot possibly work. Same sort of crappy personal life - anger and depression. Confines himself to beating thugs etc whenever he can, and giving crap that's *just short* of firing-level to rich and selfish complainants ("Is this cocaine, Mrs Worthington-Smythe? It sure looks like cocaine. Tastes like it, too. Your daughter's, huh? You had a lot to say about parental responsibility, Mrs Worthington-Smythe. Let's see how your views change over the next few months."), rather than killing people.

He *wants* to draw his gun, he wants very very much to just blow the heads off of the Commissioner, the Police Minister, everyone responsible for making the world a worse place for no reason other than reluctance to part with money. He wants to kill himself too, a lot of the time. But the cop knows that it's a sick, evil, pointless desire, and keeps it entirely to himself. He's a brilliant detective when he wants to be; but into deficit on his sick leave, and with a string of brutality complaints (none ever substantiated) on his record, with tons of political pressure keeping him down.

The destructive effects of impotent rage. Provoked beyond all endurance, what does a crazy, brilliant, disillusioned and demoralized but totally self-controlled man do?

69:

For the US folk, Dexter starts on CBS on the 17th. I wonder how much they have to cut to put it on regular cable.

70:

Daryl: that's not a very British policeman you're describing.

Marilee: who's Dexter?

71:

Why ask Marilee when Google tells all?

see "Dexter (TV series)" - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

and see:

Showtime Dexter Official Site

It is clear that you, Charles Stross, were NOT influenced by a show you knew nothing about, but it's useful to be able to coherently argue that Great Minds Think Alike and that your novel pitch was independent and contemporaneous; and that there is no conflict in adapting the hypothetical Stross Spam-killer novel to teleplay or film derivative works, adaptations, codevelopments, or whatever. But that's for your agent to say, I suspect.

I very much like the TV series Dexter, which I consider as excellent intellectually and viscerally and aesthetically as The Sopranos and The Wire and Firefly and Torchwood and NUMB3RS (i.e. as good as today's TV gets) and am an even bigger fan of all writing Strossian.

I am also one of the many who reduced TV time proportional to increasing Web time since the birth of the Web (and actually, as a pioneer in the wave ahead of the Early Adopters, had reduced TV time to zero when on the ARPANET which became to DARPANET which became the ARPANET which became the internet).

Put me down for charter subscription in the Stross Channel, on satellite, Cable, Satellite, Webcast, 2nd Life, Podcast, SQUID Magnetoneuroinductor, Retina-Scan, QuantumComputing-Feed, and VR-Web 2010.

72:

I'm with others, Dexter was a find for me in the Video shop last year and we devoured the first season DVDs. I then read the first book and actually found the TV series to potentially be superior.

It might have something to do with Michael Hall's amazing acting in the part.

Seriously, it's good stuff. Worth watching if people are looking for things to while away the strike watching.

73:

Spam stats with attribution can be found here. That article apparently refers to this document. Interesting, but don't forget your salt-shaker: the author sells anti-spam solutions.

74:

I very much like the TV series Dexter, which I consider as excellent intellectually and viscerally and aesthetically as The Sopranos and The Wire and Firefly and Torchwood and NUMB3RS

Not seen any of them, except half an episode each of Firefly and Torchwood before I concluded that, like all TV drama, they were basically Shit.

Sorry folks, I don't get on with TV. End of story.

75:

Dexter rocks. A good team of writers, one of whome has experience in clinical psychology. And, I think we need to kidnap Stross and force him to watch TV for a few days. Talk about brain sucking demons! C.S., please tell me that you watched Star Trek.

76:

Charlie@73: Hey go easy man on the TV, man. It can lead people to claim that something is "excellent ... viscerally".

Hehehe.

Like, in the sense that insoluable dietary fibre and type 2 starch are excellent viscerally? Or in the sense that the programme referred to represents excellence in unreasoning?

Looks like the Googleoid Mind Pirates have claimed another victim.

77:

@3 "Despite all you say above (and dealing with large volumes of it myself), it still strikes me as petty. Spam is more than just an annoyance, yes, but I'd think the actual deaths are more the fault of the counterfeiters than their marketers."

That's like saying Harry Lime was a honest businessman unfairly hounded by those pesky policemen leaded by major Calloway... and come to think of it I guess today he would be into spamming!


I'm all in favor of the proposed novel... I would like something in 'Seven' style, with each spammer getting more than a taste of his/her own medicine, regarding which exiled African generals seem to have fallen out of fashion lately, but 'cheap' medicines and huge male appendixes are as popular as ever, and web casinos are all the rage (some days I have found more than 3,000 euros in bonuses waiting for me in my mailbox, am I lucky or what?)

78:

Jeff: I hate, loathe, and detest Star Drek in the shape of all its post-1980 spin-offs. With the possible exception of the first season of the original Trek, and some of the earlier movies, although they'd descended into self parody by #4.

Hint: SF as a literature is a disruptive medium -- you can't end a story with the world (or your protagonists) in the same configuration that it was at the beginning. But on TV, the requirements to run as a series mean you've got to leave the world unchanged (or at least provide a honking great reset button). This makes TV series drama a medium that is fundamentally hostile to real in-depth treatment of science fictional ideas, as opposed to shallow surface glitz plus histrionics. It's trapped in the era of the 1930s pulps and simply cannot progress. LOSE. Period.

79:

Well, that's not entirely fair. DS9 *tried* to incorporate story arcs and nearly succeeded, and didn't have a 'reset button' mentality to quite such an extent as the rest of the Star Trek world (and consequently is the only Trek I can even begin to tolerate). (Abigail Nussbaum has an excellent dissection of the plusses and minuses of DS9-as-story going on her blog at the moment.)

A lot of other TV series dramas have done a *lot* better at avoiding the reset button: probably the first in the fantasy/SF mould was Buffy, of course, which definitely did have character growth (as well as foreshadowings and backreferences across three or four years, at times). I suspect that the real division here isn't TV/written, but rather committee-written/one-man's-dream: the latter always seems to produce better writing (and better creative works in general).

80:

Well, let me be the first to say how sad I am that you are not part of the Trek culture. If nothing else, it's fun to reflect on and at times make fun of. But boy, a lot of us geeks grew up with it an love it. Maybe it's a US thing. You probably have fond memories of some other show. But at least you used to watch TV, at least to take in a James Bond movie or two or three...

So you're in favor of the Feds going after spammers? Me too. But I'm also in favor of the Feds doing a lot of other things that Libertarian-types don't like. I'm a bit of a socialist with closeted communistic tendancies. I like Plato's ideas regarding the demos. Live long and prosper, dude.

81:

What happened to all the much-ballyhooed anti-spam legislation? I seem to recall reading of a couple of prosecutions, but that's about it.

I use Yahoo mail, which also does a credible job of spam removal. I rarely get more than one or two a day sneaking into my regular mailbox, though the "junk" box fills rapidly....

82:

So Jeff, you're in favour of banning art, including fiction? (IIRC that's one of the things suggested in _The Republic_, although it's a long time since I read it).

Personally I always disliked original Trek and to a greate extent TNG because, well, it was so happy and shiny and cardboard and drenched in sugar and often ends in moral lessons or social parallels that are tub-thumpingly bleeding obvious (the *right* way to do social criticism is a nice essay or a good satire, IMNSHO). If they'd existed back then, I'd have called Trek Tellitubbies in space.

(DS9 did not entirely escape this, but a bit of intercharacter conflict turned up and made it no longer dead boring.)

83:

Charlie: While you are, of course, welcome to love or hate TV as you see fit, the "every episode must end with the universe in the same state it began" criticism has been false for about 15 years now. I can't pin down the turning point for TV drama "at large", but for SF it was Babylon 5 that threw over that convention (apparently, this forced Trek to change as well, but since I couldn't stand to watch it, I don't know).

I think "story-arc" shows are now the norm, although some subgenres are still limited in how far they can move because of "the mystery problem" -- see Twin Peaks and (apparently -- again, I don't watch it) Lost, where you pull people in with the mystery, but you can't ever reveal it without killing the show. The X-files, too, while undoubtedly developing both the universe and the characters was always hamstrung by that.

TBH it would be fine if the creators just grew the balls to pull the trigger, explode the mystery, and move on to a new series before they burn themselves out trying to spin it out for a decade...

Personally, I barely watch TV at all, especially not broadcast TV. Just flipping through the electronic programme guide looking at the titles makes me despair :-P but I make occasional exceptions, usually on recommendation.

The Wire and Firefly are both excellent, in very different ways. Torchwood, on the other hand, is bloody awful: It's Scooby-Doo meets Hollyoaks. In Cardiff.

84:

Charlie, I've never seen Dexter but I know about it because it's very popular in fandom. Dexter is a guy who does forensics for a police department. He was born needing to kill people. When the police can't catch the bad guys, he secretly catches and kills them. Essentially, he's a serial killer with good intent.

One of my friends on the bookgroup has started reading The Family Trade for next Saturday and he emailed today:

Family Trade is picking up nicely and Charlie seems to like throwing the curve balls. I love a writer who can avoid the clichés. He'd probably make a nice dime writing mysteries!

He wrote yesterday about Halting State:

Btw- I finished Halting State last week. Very enjoyable! Doesn't go where you think it might and happily avoids Gibson-esque cyber space. Highly recommended for gamers, IT folks, Brit cop show watchers and accountants. (Forensic accountants!)

So I think you have another convert.

85:

Heh. I mostly agree with you on TV series, Charlie.

But.. well, I like the B5 "great war" story arc through part of S3 and S4. Moreover, I like a time travel arc which actually *works* without making the cast's current descisions null and void...

86:

Given that "no one owns it, no one controls it, and no one can turn it off" turned out to have some problems (among them, spam), if we could rewind and redo, would we still build a 3-no internet?

87:

The problem with email is not ownership, control or switchoffability of the servers. The issue is identification of end-users. Which there cryptographical soloutions to, if they were ever deployed properly and en-mass.

88:

Andrew @ 39: Try RFC 2821, primarily 4.5.4.1 and note the numerous MUST statements in there, also some comments at 4.2.5. RFC 2821 has been the definition of SMTP and Internet email service for 7 years now, superseding RFC 821, and codifying long-established requirements in practice on these points. Any MTA which does not work with a decent greylisting implementation has therefore failed the minimum requirements to function as an Internet mail server.

Having said that, of course greylisting is undesirable. So are most antispam measures. Greylisting meets a "lesser of several evils" test if reasonably well-implemented, for example by skipping it for clients which have already been established to retry, skipping it for known valid mailservers, etc. It's certainly not an abomination like Sender Address Verification.

89:

Andrew, apropos 86: cryptography is not an adequate solution -- all you can do is authenticate the fact that a given computer has a given key. You can't close the screen/keyboard/user air gap with encryption -- for all you know, someone extracted the key using rubber hose cryptanalysis, or the user you think you're talking to is a sock puppet who never existed in the first place. Short of tattooing public keys on our foreheads and mandating the universal use of webcams, there's no obvious solution.

90:

I'm not gonna get into the arguments here, but...Charlie, if you ever want to write about spam, I'd be happy to put you in touch with the sane folks who're working on the problem. We're a bit harder to find, but we're out there, and we keep asking each other hard questions like "what will happen when everyone uses this technique?"

Also: hi Clifton!

91:

Hi, J.D. Sorry to miss your Sunday night thing, but oh well, 2500 miles away.

92:

Talk of both encryption, and rubber-hose key-extraction, though valid points wrt. privacy etc, seem irrelevant in the fight against spam. After all, the fact is most spammers don't know who you communicate with, so simple lack of knowledge means your friends' email addresses are authentication enough.

This is, of course, whitelisting. It works great, but has one fatal flaw: It can't deal with email from addresses you don't already know: "first contact" with new people, emails from (wanted) services such as order confirmations. Here, crypto gets you nowhere, not because spammers might steal keys, but simply because you don't yet know which keys you care about.

Stuff like DomainKeys is supposed to help by making spam's origin at least by identifiable. But as far as I can tell, it just moves the identification problem from the email address, to the DomainKey; both are disposable, can be created and discarded largely at will by spammers. Hopefully it might introduce enough overhead to slow them down a bit, and make joe-jobbing ineffective, but it's not a permanent solution.

It seems likely to me, that we will forever have two classes of communication, one for friends and other known-good-senders, and the other for strangers and bots and spam. And the former will be reliable, and the latter will be a mess. And that people will be able to lift themselves from category B to category A by means of passing some kind of Turing test, be it automated or otherwise. There are many approaches, but to me, they all seem isomorphic to this.

93:

Grey listing is not rude. It does not require you to email twice. If your outgoing mail configuration is at all sane, your outgoing mail will be sent via a relay. The relay receives a response from the server that's doing grey listing that tells it to try again later. It tries again later. Your mail goes through.

Your first message will have a short delay due to grey listing. Subsequent messages will not.

Grey listing is complaint with the SMTP RFCs. The SMTP spec allows a server to return a response code of 4xx - transient error, try again later. If your mailer is RFC-compliant you... try again later. Works fine and is complaint.

94:

Greylisting is, in fact, RFC-compliant. If you're seeing 15-20% rejects, Andrew, it means you're doing direct-to-MX mailing, which means your mailer was *not* RFC-compliant. So your comment in @44, "That you can even ask that question shows you clearly don't get [it]" was not only unnecessarily rude but incorrect.

Unless I'm wrong. In which case you were simply unnecessarily rude.

Charlie, I run Despammed.com, and have since 1999. Spam changes a lot over the years, but one thing's constant -- it sucks down a lot of time if you let yourself get hooked. I go through phases, myself. Lately I've had a lot of success just identifying DSL blocks and rejecting the zombie PCs out there. So far I've identified -- lemme query the database here -- 357,882 DSL blocks. Wow. And there are still 215,508 on the queue to test. I should probably revisit that test (it's been running on its own since Christmas...)

Those are just spam *sources* to Despammed.com, by the way. The botnets are 99% of the spam senders these days. What happens when a botnet gains sentience? Will it resent all the time it has to waste on spamming?

95:

Nix @ #78

I'm fairly sure Babylon 5 was before Buffy and rather lacking in "reset buttons" (1994 for B5 Season 1; 1997 for Buffy Season 1 says Wikipedia).

96:

Michael;

Claim it's RFC complaint all you like, but deliberate failure (with time windows which may or may not match the windows for retries set by the mail sender) is not the same thing as temporary delay. And it's not "my" server, I just get to analyse logs. Further, the spam networks are now adapting to greylisting so it'll be worthless shortly.

(see: El Reg, MayDay! MayDay! Ruskies reinvent cyber crime)

97:

Defeating spammers is difficult given the fact that lawmakers exempt themselves from laws against spamming and then exempt all their mates and their mates include drug companies that benefit from the drug sales made by spammers. Perhaps your spammer killer could include politicians who pass anti-spam laws exempting politicians from anti-spam laws.

The worlds best e-mail filter is in Thunderbird. Based on tests of many filters, it is the only filter that rejects spam without rejecting valid email. It cuts the 14000 spam per hour I currently receive, per email address, down to 4 per hour. The remaining spam is almost impossible to kill because the spammers subscribe to the same newsletters then retransmit the newsletters with slight modifications. You cannot kill the counterfeit without killing the original. Your spammer killer should kill the true masters of spam, the Blofelds, the ones who develop the unfilterable spam.

As soon as I started using one of the major banks, the bank started drowning me in paper spam trying to sell me insurance and lots of other non bank products. Could your spammer killer take out a few tree killers?

The laundry might develop a magical way to invert all spam so it only ever travels to the spammer and travels in the form of paper mail and arrives via the spammer's alimentary canal from the exit end. Bob Howard could claim victory over spammers by pointing out he had really rectum.

98:

The slicing and dicing of 'Dexter'

Airing the first season of the bare 'n' bloody Showtime series on CBS meant some cutting but without killing the serial slayer's spirit.
By Lynn Smith, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
February 17, 2008

Michael C. Hall gets into character as a serial killer in "Dexter."
Email Picture

HIGH above Wilshire Boulevard, scenes from the pilot of "Dexter" were illuminating a tiny editing room. From a couch, Bob Greenblatt, Showtime's president of entertainment, considered the original version of the bloody series about a well-meaning serial killer -- and compared it to the revised version he'd made for CBS.

CBS will begin airing the 12 episodes of Season 1, or at least parts of them, tonight in another sign of how the networks are tiptoeing into edgier fare.

"The things that are unconventional about it are still 100% there," Greenblatt promised as scenes of the Miami Police Department, Miami night life and Dexter's kill room unrolled.

Indeed, the severed head still bounced on the freeway and the mutilated corpse was still neatly laid out by the motel. But profanities, sexual foreplay, genitals secured with plastic wrap? Cut, cut and blurred, even though you couldn't see anything anyway. You just don't know what might show up on hi-def, Greenblatt explained....

99:

FWIW, I watched the first ep of Dexter last night and I'm willing to watch at least one more ep.

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